MynameisbruceThis weekend, we caught a Halloween evening screening of MY NAME IS BRUCE. For those not following the saga, this Dark Horse-produced film tells the Galaxy Quest-like story of a town — beset by an ancient Chinese demon — that decides to kidnap B-movie icon Bruce Campbell to fight said demon.

Now, as many of you know, I am one of the biggest Bruce Campbell groupies on the planet and the prospect of spending Halloween with Bruce filled me with the rapture. The One True Bruce was at the screening and answered questions before and after the movie in his inimitable quick and sarcastic manner, to delightful effect. It was, to be honest, a hoot.

As for the the movie? Written by Mark (Battlestar Galactica) Verheiden and directed by Bruce himself, it was…well. It was a vanity project to give you more Bruce than you could ever possibly want. And that kind of made me sad. To be sure, there were moments of genuine drollery, and Bruce gave the expected physical, scenery-stomping performance and looked handsome and bad-ass in a quite satisfying manner.

But it was self-indulgent as hell. Bruce portrays himself as a nose-picking brute who swills whiskey from a dog bowl because he knows that He’s Bruce, and can get away with it. Bruce reduces the story and the rest of the cast to a setting for the Gem of Bruce because he knows He’s Bruce and he can get away with it. In an interview with New York Magazine Campbell reveals his “Moving on” esthetic:
Autolycus01

Where would you say you learned most of your directorial tricks?
Over the years you look at how you like how this guy got performances out of actors, or how this approach didn’t work. It’s a way to present good communication with the cast and crew, and hopefully a reasonable working environment. When I direct, we only work twelve hours a day, because I won’t work longer than that. You hear all this crap about all these hot-shit independent filmmakers who are shooting eighteen hours a day? They’re morons. If you’re shooting eighteen hours a day, you either don’t know what you’re doing or you’re being abusive to your crew and cast, and you will not get the best work out of them.


A few more minutes in the editing room, if nothing else, would have vastly improved MNIB’s timing. But who cares? Bruce doesn’t. Despite the narrow scope of MY NAME IS BRUCE, the brutal truth is that I love Bruce Campbell so much — I once wrote that he was the one man who could make wearing sandals with socks cool — that he did get away with it, and he is still a beloved figure at Stately Beat Manor.

But after having followed The One True Bruce’s career for over 15 years, and reading his books and meeting him half a dozen times, I have to say that it is my studied opinion that his career trajectory is more towards William Shatner than Paul Newman. Campbell seems to be so caught up in his cult stardom that he’s perfectly content to mine it forever, which is a shame, because he is a riveting screen presence, and properly used, he could be a greater character actor than Walter Brennan. But he’s content to cater to his fan base. And it was clearly the Internet that made this not only possible, but a smart career move.

Brisco County JrBy chance, this weekend, I came across this interview with John Hodgman. Hodgman — who stars as a PC on those Apple commercials and makes frequent guest appearances on The Daily Show — is a funny guy, a comics-loving guy, and a smart guy. So smart (I had no idea), he was the agent who had started Bruce Campbell on his literary career. (Campbell’s two books are extremely funny and well-written.) But Hodgman describes the history of the Internet perfectly, via the fame of Bruce Campbell.

And as soon as the internet invaded our office in 1997, I, like pretty much everyone else in the world, started discovering and rediscovering our generational memory. You know, after we all got done — you can’t even say “Google” — Alta Vista-ing ourselves, the next thing you plugged in were the weird, esoteric subjects and people that you half remembered or felt a personal passion for. And suddenly everyone started discovering each other. I discovered that there were lots of people that liked Bruce Campbell. And within that particular niche we would all start talking together and a little community would grow and geekdom found its voice and its power in that way.

One thing I discovered as I was searching around for Bruce Campbell was Bruce Campbell. Had his own little website where he would write amusing little stories about shooting the movie McHale’s Navy in Mexico. Or anecdotes about, you know, taking a bike ride and seeing a fox after shooting an episode of a TV show called American Gothic. And he could write pretty well. And like many of those early celebrity sites on the web, they were actually started by the people who claimed to have started them. I wrote him a little e-mail saying, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?”


This timeline jibes with with my own re-appreciation of the One True Bruce. My office got T3 lines for the first time in 1997-8 and it was a time of wandering along every ephemeral interest and desire. Bruce was an early star of the Internet, with an unusually comprehensive personal website that he wrote himself (and where you could email him and he would usually email back) and there were numerous fansites set up due to his popular turn as Autolycus on Xena and on Hercules.

Back then, the internet was a rusty series of tubes and bailing wire run by housewives and college students. It wasn’t Google and Yahoo and Fox and Facebook. Ephemeral interests — Star Wars, Buffy, Batman, Vida Guerra’s ass — got bigger and bigger as nerd knowledge became more and more dominant. Just as the Christian Church controlled early Western literacy because only monasteries had the time and resources to illuminate manuscripts, the nerds, with their superior computer programming skills, were able to quickly, bloodlessly, take out the culture.

The result? Not only a world where making a movie that satisfies his fans just because it stars him is enough for a Bruce Campbell, but a world where on Empire Magazine Top 500 films ranks THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK at #3, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK at #2 and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE at #195. In one way, I’m happy to live in a world where action and adventure and fighting zombies are ranked on the same esthetic scale as heartwarming drama. Certainly the same level of craft goes into both and the results can be as lasting. However, when you see (to pick a random example) 300 — an entertainingly noisy movie with flashy, inventive camera work and impressive personal trainers — ranked higher than CABARET, a multi-faceted film about the theater, sexual identity and the rise of Nazism, you wonder what ever happened to deeper meaning.

As I sometimes allude to during my late night digressions here, I think I liked it better when being a fan involved some kind of revelatory, transgressive or rebellious element and not Wikipedia and the IMDb. But then everything is more fun when you’re a rebel.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I enjoyed the movie (which was totally silly), and seeing it with his Q&A is always worthwhile. My fave part was actually when he was bawling and drinking out of the dog bowl in the trailer park. At the Q&A of the screening I attended, one fan proposed to his girlfriend when he was called on (instead of asking BC a question) and another fan asked BC to give her the shirt off his back. Surprisingly he did, since she had brought him a brand new Tommy Bahama shirt to trade. Ah, Bruce!

  2. I really hear you Heidi- both on the broad message that you’re putting out and on the illustrative example. I remember being a kid and picking up a VHS bootleg copy of Army of Darkness at the Pittsburgh Comicon, just because it had the “Rip Van Ash” alternate ending on it. Do you know how mind blowingly awesome it was to see that? I was more than a little disappointed a few years later when it was released as a special feature on dvd. You used to have to work to have unique taste, like an archeologist. Now people just email it to each other. The sad part is, I bet if the internet hadn’t let the nerds take over, Bruce Campbell would still be doing quality acting. Take a look at his work on Mindwarp or Waxwork II. He was such a unique and entertaining performer back then. Now, compare it to anything he’s done this decade. Excluding Bubba Ho-Tep or his Spider-Man cameos, he’s resting on his laurels. He would have to be working a lot harder if it weren’t for all the support he’s gotten as a result of the internet. Has this new breed of fans even seen anything he’s done outside of Evil Dead? I doubt it.

    But listen, Heidi. It kind of makes me sad to hear you talk like it’s impossible to be a “maverick” with your personal taste in these modern times. There’s plenty of great stuff out there, growing underground that hasn’t been exposed yet or ever. Yeah, you’ve got to work hard to find it, but didn’t you have to work hard before the internet as well? Quintron, Blood Car, Reigning Sound, Here There Be Robots- these are a few of my favorite things, and they’re all small the way Bruce was back then. Things are different these days, that’s for sure. But things always change, and I think you need to ask yourself if you’re remembering a time that genuinely was better, or if you’re just being nostalgic.

  3. Um…exactly who in nerdom was a rebel in 1997? 1987? Ever?

    I mean, beyond the late 70’s/early 80’s riots in the East Village, NYC and Orange County, L.A. when the cops were called in to crack some heads after several outlaw Creation and Fred Greenberg cons, I can’t really think of any real rebellious aspects of our reading The Human Fly and Dr. WHo novelizations. Unless, I guess, your favorite Doctor was Colin Baker.

    Long live Roy Thomas! Remember The Negative Zone! Vaya Con Devo!

    I kid, because I hate.

  4. Interestingly, I almost added the word porna few times, but thought it would be misleading.

    Like “Bruce Campbell porn” or whatever.

  5. Um…exactly who in nerddom was a rebel in 1997? 1987? Ever?

    I mean, beyond the late 70’s/early 80’s fan riots in the East Village and Orange County, when the cops were called in to crack heads after those early, illegal Creation Cons and Fred Greenberg shows, I can’t really think of anything to justify that comment.

    Watching bootleg tapes of Captain Harlock, Project A and The Super-Friends Celebrity Roast? Yeah, okay, I mean, it was technically a criminal act, sure. Proclaiming Colin Baker to be the best Dr. Who? I’ll give you that, that’s two, then. But beyond those examples…I’m drawing a blank.

    Does Spain Rodriguez count as a nerd?

    Ha ha. I kid, because I hate.

    Long live Roy Thomas! Remember The Negative Zone! Vaya Con Devo!

  6. Um…exactly who in nerddom was a rebel in 1997? 1987? Ever?

    I mean, beyond the late 70’s/early 80’s fan riots in the East Village and Orange County, when the cops were called in to crack heads after those early, illegal Creation Cons and Fred Greenberg shows, I can’t really think of anything to justify that comment.

    Watching bootleg tapes of Captain Harlock, Project A and The Super-Friends Celebrity Roast? Yeah, okay, I mean, it was technically a criminal act, sure. Proclaiming Colin Baker to be the best Dr. Who? I’ll give you that, that’s two, then. But beyond those examples…I’m drawing a blank. Unless Spain Rodriguez counts as a nerd, and I don’t think that’s the case, really.

    Ha ha. I kid, because I hate.

    Long live Roy Thomas! Remember The Negative Zone! Vaya Con Devo!

  7. I still remember the days of newsgroups for comics and wrestling and MST3K, among other nerdy interests.

    The same percentage of wheat to chaff likely, just a lot less of it.

  8. Hey, delete my craziness, I dunno why the damned computer went and re-sent my post while I was editing it. It’s a friggin’ maverick!

  9. Getting beat up for your interest in all things geeky doesn’t make you a rebel. It just makes you a target. A geek with glasses could be a non-fan and still get beat up. A numismatic enthusiast, let’s say. Is he a rebel? No, just another victim.

    A real geek rebel would come to class the next day dressed as a Cenobite and hack up the bullies with a Direct Market prop from Highlander. Or bury his mom EC-style after she ripped up his comics. Not that I’m inciting geek violence here, or saying there aren’t non-aggressive forms of geek rebellion open to nerds. I’m just saying, y’know…hack up the bullies with the Highlander sword. I’m just putting that out there. That’s all.

    Now I’m going to stop posting and drive out to Long Island, my mom needs a good thrashing for tearing up my Wizards poster.

  10. Hey Evan- I don’t think anyone’s claiming that nerd culture used to be badass or barrier breaking or even intelligent. Just that it used to be more underground and not as much of a bandwagon. In that way it was more rebellious, just not rebellious in the ways that you’re listing. I mean, you’re correct, it was always lame, but that’s not really what’s being discussed.

    Mark- Could you expand on your wheat/chaff comment? It seems simple, but I don’t get what you meant.

  11. I just meant there has always been good stuff and bad stuff on the net, there just used to be a lot less of both.

    A more nerdy way of saying it would be: “Sturgeon’s Law has always applied, but the amounts were just smaller.”

  12. With you on the Cabaret/300 comparison. I enjoyed 300 but it doesn’t compare to something like Cabaret which had a different kind of intent and impact. As much as I like seeing genre fiction taken seriously, too often I see popularity as opposed to quality on these kinds of lists. It’s like comparing apples and avocados. They are completely different accomplishments in the same storytelling medium.

  13. Mr Colin:
    “I kid because I hate” should have indicated the level of seriousness in my “rebuttal”. Although I still don’t see the rebellion, to be honest. Maybe in descriptive terms, but in reality –? I mean, who chose to like The Defenders instead of sports or whatever consciously, as a rebellious stance? I chose The Human Fly (and sports, actually, but whatever) because I was a nerd, not a rebel. I was never given the Lone WOlf and Cub choice between the ball and the comic book, y’know? Maybe your experience was different, but I just haven’t seen the rebellious side of things in geekdom, and I’m pretty close to it.

    So now I’m being serious. Feh. I don’t like it.

  14. Obviously I wasn’t using the term “rebellious” in the sense of actual rebellion against political or physical oppression. I was talking about cultural norms. Once upon a time an earring on a guy was considered a bit “rebellious.” Now it’s just a fashion statement that implies you are a “bad boy” or sexuallyu ambiguous.

    Likewise.

    In 1984, being a nerd was an embarrassing state which one endeavored to hide or alter as best you could. CF Freddie Blassie’s “Pencil neck geeks.” I can even remember a time when being the kind of Star Wars fan who dressed up and collected toys was something you didn’t necessarily mention on a first date.

    Now, with Facebook and MySpace, it’s something you proudly announce. For internet culture, it’s more embarassing and shameful NOT to have a fannish obssession or two, whether it’s American Idol or Mad Men.

  15. “For internet culture, it’s more embarassing and shameful NOT to have a fannish obssession or two, whether it’s American Idol or Mad Men. ”

    “normal” people now have an outlet for this by playing fantasy football, which has gone from a nerdy thing to do in the 1980s to a billion-dollar cottage industry.

  16. You’re right Evan- I took you way too literally. I am completely unable to detect and respond to sarcasm (especially today- I’m very nervous about the election), and it has a habit of making me a wet blanket a lot of the time. Heidi only meant “rebel” in the “against the grain” sense of the word. But I think you bring up a really good point- is someone who isn’t making the choice to be a rebel really a rebel? Maybe not. I guess it depends on why each person got into this type of material. I’m not sure I buy that anyone (awkward kids or whatever) are FORCED to like Star Wars, they’re always choosing to do it. Aren’t they?

    This just popped in my head, not related to Evan and I’s conversation, but related to Heidi’s post; I’m friends with people that are obsessed with Heroes, but never read comics. When I tell them I can’t watch the show because I feel like I had seen all those themes and storylines done a million times by the time I was thirteen, they make fun of me for being a nerdy kid that read comics when he was young. Is this new army of nerd culture loving people really nerds? No.

  17. Okay, I tap out. I had no idea it was unfashionable to be a comic book fan in the 80’s, I was too busy bedding down every gal I showed my Super Powers collection to. Obviously this was an atypical experience. And a lie, to boot.

    So. Nerds are rebels. So are barbed wire collectors, curlers, and snot eaters, I guess.

    But really, I give. And I can only write “kidding” and “wasn’t being literal” one more time. Ow, I give, break the hold. You have my mask, you have my hair, I am awash with shame and am heading for the curtains.

    I will be back as soon as I get a new gimmick and ring attire. And I shall triumph!

    Yours,
    El Hijo De Forrest Ackerman

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